How to Handle Hormonal Acne
Morgane Leten - Nutrition & Fertility Coach
When you think of acne, you might be transported back to some awkward teenage years when your face was hopelessly covered in deep, bright red spots that seemingly always happened right before a presentation or a date. For many people, these awkward moments are (thankfully!) a distant memory. But for others, hormonal acne can still plague our adult years.
If you’re in your 20s or older, you might think you’re in the clear, but did you know that hormonal acne is common in adult women between the ages of 20 and 40?
What about after 40? Are you safe from pimples then? No, I’m afraid. Some women experience breakouts later in life too, especially around menopause.
In this post, we’ll tell you how to spot (pun intended!) hormonal acne and what you can do to treat it and get rid of it for guud.
What does hormonal acne look like?
First, let’s talk about the difference between hormonal acne and a few pimples on your chin. If you notice that your breakouts happen around the same time every month, they are probably linked to your menstrual cycle. That’s because hormonal acne is caused by (you guessed it!) fluctuating hormones that change throughout your cycle.
And any time there are big hormonal changes in your body - like during puberty, menopause or after having a baby - you might experience hormonal acne. Conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome is also known to cause hormonal acne. So basically, if your breakouts correspond to hormonal shifts, then it’s likely hormonal acne.
When you’re a teenager, hormonal acne often appears on what is known as the “T-zone” which is your nose, chin and forehead. When you’re an adult, hormonal acne can start lower on your face like on your chin, jawline or cheeks.
The next part is a little gross. If you’re squeamish about this stuff, buckle up.
Typically, hormonal acne looks like painful, red swollen bumps known as papules.
There’s a few types of hormonal acne that you might experience, but the most common are:
- Blackheads: These spots are open at the surface of the skin, and they appear to have a black spot which is the result of sebum interacting with air.
- Whiteheads: This is perhaps the more “traditional” pimple. These ones are closed beneath the skin and appear white on top.
At its mildest form, hormonal acne might look like a breakout or two near your period, but for people with persistent hormonal acne, it can last all month long and sometimes lead to scarring.
Why does it happen?
Acne is caused by clogged pores on your face. Ordinary breakouts can be caused by things like makeup or sweat building up in your pores, but hormonal acne develops when hormonal changes in your body cause your skin to produce more oil or cause inflammation.
Everyone’s hormones fluctuate throughout the month, so why do some people get acne and others barely notice a blemish?
The reason why is that some people’s body’s aren’t able to efficiently process the excess estrogen, progesterone and testosterone that your body produces throughout the month*. If your body isn’t processing these hormones properly, then the excess can cause acne.
This happens in a few different ways:
- Estrogen dominance: Excess estrogen causes estrogen dominance which can lead to skin inflammation. For women whose endocrine systems function optimally, these changes won’t cause a lot of problems, but many women cannot process excess hormones correctly and unfortunately, acne is the unwanted result. Premenstrually and during your period, estrogen drops and your skin gets thinner and retains less moisture. It also produces less collagen. This is why your skin is more sensitive to acne in the days before your period. Progesterone rising and falling in the luteal phase can also make any existing skin conditions you have worse so beware!
- Extra testosterone: Excess testosterone triggers your skin to produce more oil. This oil sits in your pores and when it mixes with bacteria, it can cause acne
- After ovulation: After you ovulate, progesterone production starts to increase. The impact of progesterone on the skin can stimulate the production of sebum while also making your pores smaller. Combined, this can cause clogged pores and result in breakouts.
If your cycle is natural and functioning normally then these hormonal changes likely don’t make a lot of difference to you each month. However, if you’re one of the unlucky ones that can’t process hormones correctly, then you might be suffering with acne month after month.
How to treat it?
Tempting though it may be, do not squeeze or attempt to “pop” your pimples! If you do, you increase the risk of scarring which is unlikely to ever heal completely.
If your acne is persistent and causing you major stress, your doctor might be quick to recommend hormonal birth control. While this can potentially be effective, it’s important to understand the long-term side effects of hormonal birth control. Instead, we would recommend trying a natural approach first both to treat and prevent hormonal acne.
It Starts With Your Gut
If you are already suffering from hormonal acne, remember that everything starts with your gut. It may seem like treating your skin would be the right course of action, but what you eat has a huge impact on your skin. If you want to learn more about it, check out our blog post called Healthy Gut Happy Hormones.
Keep Stress At Bay
Stress plays a significant role too. When you feel stressed, your sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones cause your skin to produce more oil which can lead to clogged pores and acne.
How to prevent hormonal acne?
Preventing hormonal acne may seem impossible. It’s caused by your hormones after all so there may seem like there’s nothing you can really do about it. But we beg to differ!
Some simple lifestyle changes, in combination some extra vitamins and minerals can make a world of difference.
- Get some zinc through foods like meat, chickpeas or seeds like pumpkin or sesame. Studies show that consuming more zinc can actually reduce sebum production which can help fend off acne. If you’re having trouble getting zinc through food, consider taking something extra. It's also interesting to see if you can take some extra selenium, because they are both scientifically proven to improve skin quality.
- Chow down on inflammation-fighting foods like green leafy vegetables like spinach kale and collards. Add in some almonds and walnuts too. Also, just to set the record straight: you may have been told at some point in your life that acne is caused by eating junk food. This is not true. However, overdoing it on certain foods can lead to increased inflammation which can cause acne. Things like sugar, red meat, bread, pasta and dairy can all cause inflammation. If you’re really struggling to keep your acne in check, try cutting out one or more of these foods to see if that makes a difference.
- Get your omega-3 fatty acids. You can get this through fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna or sardines. Not a fish fan? Consider taking it as an extra trough supplements.
- Wash your face! Expensive creams and all the green tea in the world will never help if your face isn’t clean to start with! Never ever go to bed with your makeup on and always make sure you wash your face in the morning and in the evening. It seems simple, but trust us, it makes a big difference!
- Don’t go nuts with products. Apply no more than a pea-sized amount of any acne product to your face. More does not get your better results. In fact, using too much can actually dry out your skin and cause major irritation.
- Wear sunscreen every day. This is just good, general skin care advice but it can also help alleviate hormonal acne too. Protect your face with at least SPF 30. Look for daily face creams with SPF built in and then you never need to think about it.
Remember: there is no quick fix for hormonal acne. It could take several weeks before any lifestyle changes or treatments take effect so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results straight away. Persistence is key. And if you’re really struggling, get in touch with us. We’ll be able to steer you in the right direction. Just head over to our website and start a chat with us. We have experts like Lily, our nutrition and gut health specialist, who can help you.